We are living in a VUCA (Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world, where change and disruption are the new normal. The old business models may have served us well in the past but they can no longer predict success in the future. Globally, consumer preferences are changing radically and technology-driven innovations are cannibalising old business models and creating new ones. Artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing are radically changing the labour cost arbitrage developing countries have traditionally enjoyed. There is a compelling need for organizations to embrace the change, innovate and to remain relevant and competitive in the current environment.
With changing times, the role of a CFO has also become much wider and goes far beyond traditional bookkeeping, to embrace all aspects of business and provide financial leadership and direction to the organization. Often, the role requires finance leaders to manage and balance several dualities.
Fiduciary vs. Business partnering: Fiduciary responsibilities are core to the role of a CFO, if anything, over a period of time this aspect of role has become more demanding, relevant and critical. Transparency, compliances and highest standards of governance are non-negotiable and continue being the core requirements that businesses must adhere to. This is the foundation that provides the required stability for us to meet the ever-changing volatile landscape of the business world. Complying with law of the land is a given, the CFO has to set the tone for raising the bar to a much higher standard and strive to be a leader and benchmark in this aspect. Indeed, the markets tend to place trustworthy compliant companies at a premium vs. others. We have seen multiple cases of complete destruction in shareholder value where organizations that have failed in their fiduciary responsibilities. However, this is only one aspect of the role of CFO, there are no longer any well-defined boundaries between finance, sales & marketing, manufacturing and other business functions, as all actions of the organization ultimately result in a financial implication and thus CFO must be concerned about all aspects of the business. The demand of role is not merely to report historical results accurately, but to lead and participate in articulating the business strategy, collaborate with business leaders, internal and external stakeholders, take corrective actions and course correction on the go to deliver business results.
Speed of decision making vs. strive for accurate information: Perfect information does not exist, and if it does, sometimes it’s too late to leverage that opportunity. CFO role is at the centre stage of resource allocation decision making. The classic investment models based on past performance, extrapolated to future, no longer work beyond a point. This can at best be one of the factors for decision making. With the major disruption caused by technology and innovation, changing consumer demands, the growth (or decline) could be exponential. The key is to balance available market information, trends, organisational objectives, and be able to take collective decisions with speed while utilising available information from multiple sources.
Complex environment vs. simplification: With ever increasing business complexities arising out of continuous changes in business environment and compliance requirements, the CFO must play a crucial role in tackling the complexities, adopt same in context of the business, absorb the change, and ease the impact for the business, in order for it to remain focused on customers. The mantra is to absorb complexity at the back end and free the consumer-facing front end to remain focused on serving the customers.
The CFO, being an integral part of an organization’s leadership team must play a crucial role in setting the right tone at the top, lead the cultural values of the organization and nurture talent. Culture represents our shared values and way of doing business. It not only provides the stability and “the constant“, in an otherwise ever-changing external landscape but also can be a huge competitive advantage that cannot be replicated by others. Any change in process, innovation, new products etc. may give an edge to business for a short period of time, but soon competition will catch up and adopt the changes, thus negating that advantage over a period of time; however a deeply embedded culture cannot be replicated, and thus provides a constant competitive advantage. At InterGlobe, our culture is based on our three core values of integrity, customer orientation and future-mindedness. All our actions are driven by these core values and the CFO has a significant responsibility to live and advocate the culture of the organization.
Last (but not the least) it’s all about people. Hiring the right talent, aligned with our cultural values. Retaining, motivating, development and succession planning are key to be able to deliver our strategy.
With the widening role of a CFO, the skillsets requirements go far beyond subject matter expertise to leadership skills, strategist, and overall business management skills. The role is far more relevant, enriching and exciting in today’s context, and there is a great opportunity to make a real difference!